The art of taking a wife
Sublime beings and elect souls arealways exceptional, and if, in theinnumerable crowd of husbands andwives, they have reached the yes bythe way of desire of the flesh, theysoon find that the game was notworth the candle, and that themuddy swamp of weariness andanimal familiarity of sex followsupon the first outburst of voluptuousness.[Pg 40]The woman sometimes succeedsin fanning and reviving itwith inexhaustible coquetry, but onegets scorched, and the distaste maybecome even more obstinate themore ingenious are the remediesused to oppose it. A marriageinspired only by the desires of theflesh, maintained only by the breadof lust, is a very poor and abjectthing, that can very rarely givepeace to the mind, and much lesshappiness. Even in the most vulgarand sensual natures, there is somethingthat rebels against the permanentanimal, and raises its voice indemand for a more human form offood. Man, like the swine, wallowsin the mud, but with this difference:he likes to wash himself, and to[Pg 41]look up to the heavens from thetrough. It must be added that inmarriage the dignities of father andmother only increase the responsibilityof the two consorts to animateand enlarge the human nut at theexpense of the animal pulp. Thespirituality of the family impressesitself upon the coarsest nature andthe most obtuse nerves, by warmingthe atmosphere and revealinga streak of blue in the heavenabove.
Woe to the man who, in solitaryand sad contemplation of his wife,says to himself: My companion isonly a female!
Much worse is it, and woe to thatwoman who, in the night watches,looking at her husband as he snores,[Pg 42]says in a low, fretful voice: Myhusband is only a male!
There is hardly a man who wouldconfess to his friends, or even tohimself, that he married a womanto possess her. Even if it weretrue, modesty and pride fightagainst the confession, and withone of those clever self-deceptionswith which we know how to embellishand deceive our own consciences,we exclaim in a decided and convincedtone, I love her!
If it be so difficult a thing to distinguishbetween gold and its alloy,true and false diamonds, eastern andRoman pearls, imagine whether it iseasy to distinguish between the desire[Pg 43]of the flesh and true love. Yet thisis just one of those most dangerousand hidden pitfalls which bring deathto happiness in the battle waged inour minds between the to be or notto be, when we have to decide whetheror no we ought to give the holyname of wife to the woman we desire.In other books of mine I have venturedto give some advice to thoseaspiring to matrimony to enable themto distinguish between true love andcarnal excitement, which only affectsone organ.
As I believe, however, that wehave here before our eyes one ofthe gravest and most vital questionsin the art of taking a wife, I maybe allowed to enter more minutelyinto particulars.
Always doubt a sudden impression,so called a coup de foudre, if it hasseized you after long abstinence fromwoman’s society.
For love also, and perhaps morefor love than for the brain, it isprudent to remember the fastingPhilip.
If you fear being enamoured ofa young girl and are not disposedtoward marriage, go and see all themarried and young ladies most famedfor beauty, grace, and elegance, andmake your comparisons. If they beunfavourable to her, doubt directly the[Pg 45]seriousness and depth of your passion.
This has to do only with what wecall physical love, but I speak of itat some length as it is the first dooropened when a man and woman seeeach other for the first time. ButI do not mean that it is the onlyone which leads you to the fatal yes.It ought only to give you an entranceinto the ante-chamber where you mustwait patiently until heart and mindopen the doors of the inner rooms,where you will have to live all yourlife.
If there has been no coup de foudre,but the sympathy came gradually,developed and grew until it becamea real passion, then all my counselsof examination and experiment will[Pg 46]be perfectly useless. At each visityou unconsciously, and without thinkingof it at all, correct or confirmthe first impression—now trimming,now increasing the warmth of theoriginal sympathy. How many wooings,how many marriages have miscarriedin our fancy without ourknowing a word of it, or even havingspoken an affectionate word to theperson who awakened so sudden andstrong an impression in us! A beingsuddenly appeared on the horizon,perhaps in an hour in which we feltthe weight of solitude, the torturesof abstinence, and we said to ourselvesdirectly: What a charming andsweet creature! Why do I not takeher for mine ... and forever?
The apparition passed from our[Pg 47]gaze, but we carried it home with uscarved, or rather written, on our mindsin fire. We saw her between the linesof the book we read, in our dreams,everywhere.
A few days later we see her in thestreet, or in society, and we vainlyendeavor to reconcile the reality withthe figure we saw in our imagination.The discord is complete. The womanis not the same, and smiling to ourselvesover the love which we haddreamt of in the silence of our minds,we exclaim, “How could I everhave admired this vulgar, ugly, fadedcreature and wished to have herfor my own!”
It is well, indeed, when the sketchcan be corrected so soon; unfortunatelyit sometimes occurs after[Pg 48]several visits, when we may havecompromised our heart and perhapsour word.
Prudence, then, adelante Pedro conjuicio!
Science teaches that no force in theworld is lost, no energy consumed,but that force and energy transformthemselves one into the other withoutloss at all. Then I ask myself—butall the desires that men and womenbreathe out in the streets, in society,in theatres, or wherever they meet,where do they end? All those glancesof the eyes which carry fire enough intheir rays to burn and consume thewhole planetary system; all thoseheart beatings which make the face[Pg 49]burn and attract two beings, two organisms,two lives to each other; when(as in most cases) they pass like meteorswithout fructifying the earth, where dothey go? Those terrible energies, thefruit of the most intricate and sublimemechanism of our brains and nerves;into what do they transport themselveswhen they produce neitherwords, tears, lust, crime, matrimony,nor sin?
And yet these desires are many;they meet day and night in the crowdedstreets, in the whirl of railway carriages,in the dense crowd, in the solitarymountain paths; they ploughthrough space, and if we were ableto see them we should see the airlighted up by them as by the convulsivelightning of a tropical tempest.
But where do they go? Where isso much light consumed? Who warmshimself with all this mighty heat?And where are the ashes of such a fire?
I know not; perhaps biologists andphysicists of the future will tell us.
Another elementary, but most importantaid toward the wise choiceof a wife, is to see a large number ofwomen before choosing her to whomyou wish to give name, heart, and life.
If you have chosen your companionin the narrow circle of a village withoutleaving it, you may be proud tohave gained the prettiest girl amonga dozen companions. But woe to you,should you suddenly go to other villages,or still worse to some large[Pg 51]city; you may find the comparisonodious, most odious, and yet irremediable.
This is why men who have seen andtravelled a great deal generally makethe best husbands; for making theirchoice on a larger basis, there isgreat probability of their choosingwell, and perhaps also for anotherreason, women more easily pardonsome former gallantry in their fiancésthan a too ingenuous virtue. DonGiovanni has always seemed morepleasing to them than the chasteJoseph.
A woman who knows that she ispreferred and chosen as a companion,by one who has seen and known ahundred or a thousand other women,is proud of it, and with reason.
I do not know if all women willshare my opinion, but those who knowmost of the science of love will mostcertainly think with me. Were I awoman, my ideal of a husband wouldbe a man who had travelled in allthe six parts of the world, and hadseen and admired all the womenthere.
And continuing my Utopia, butbringing it down to the level of earth;were I a woman and had I doubtsabout the sincerity of the passionawakened in my fiancé, I should wishhim to make a journey through allEurope which should last a year, andif on his return he still found meworthy of him, I would give him myhand with the certainty of having aloving and faithful husband.
Time is a valuable element to addweight to our choice; it is one of thebest gauges of comparison by which todistinguish true love from carnal excitement.It is an old axiom, confirmedby universal experience, thattime cools and extinguishes the smallattacks of love, but strengthens andinvigorates the more serious ones.The fatal brevity of our lives, thenatural impatience of all those in love,conspire together to hasten marriage,but as far as I know and am able, Irecommend men and women to acquirethe sainted virtue of patience.I pray women again and again intheir love affairs (in which as peoplesay they are more men than we are),to follow the tactics of Fabius thetemporizer: wait, wait, and still[Pg 54]wait. Love is centred in a mostserious moment, one most pregnantwith consequences to our whole lives,and a month or two more will onlyincrease the dignity of the choice, andbe a guarantee for the future. Thehoneymoon will shine all the longerabove our horizon, the more we waitfor it, with the poetry of desire and theideality of hope.
AGE AND HEALTH.
If a man were only a generatinganimal, the problem of age in marriagewould be very simple, andreducible to this formula: That aslong as men or women can relightthe flame of life they are marriageable.
That means that a man maymarry from sixteen to sixty, and inexceptional cases up to seventy andeighty; and that he may marry awoman of from fifteen to forty-five.
Man, however, is not solely a[Pg 56]generating animal, but a thinking,reasoning, sentient, cavilling, wranglingbeing; a political, commercial,and religious creature; he manufacturesbrakes to curb the exhilarationof the gallop downhill, createssophisms to spoil truth, and crutchesto make athletes rickety; he tellsmany lies for amusement; in shorthe is the most clever and ingeniousartificer in things of which he knowsvery little, in the whole planetaryuniverse. Notwithstanding all theseprecious virtues, man finds the problemof age most complicated, whenhe wishes to take one of thedaughters of Eve and say to her:“Will you give me your hand, sothat we may form a little futurefor ourselves?”
All other elements being favourable,the ideal perfection in age asregards marriage would be as follows:
The man to be from twenty-fiveto thirty-five.
The woman from eighteen totwenty-five.
The man should always be a fewyears older than the woman, that isfrom five to ten years older, andthis for many reasons. Man growsolder more slowly than woman, andkeeps his power of reproductionlonger.
Before twenty-five or thirty yearsof age a man, unless he be a bornlibertine, knows comparatively littleof the world of woman, and thatonly the worst, and in his choice[Pg 58]of a wife may make a terrible mistake.
Then, also, the products of a tooearly union are weak and inferior;the statistics of all countriesshow that there are more deathsamong children of young parentsthan of older, or if they live, theyare more weakly.
In the most simple problems ofmarriage, as in the most complexand metaphysical, it is always betterto